Sunday’s events across Egypt, in which at least 51 people were killed, mostly in Cairo, largely did away with the notion of a “united Egypt.”
Yet another round of violent clashes broke out between those who back the Muslim Brotherhood, and the army and its supporters, this time on a main national holiday, the 6th of October — marking the 40th anniversary of the start of the 1973 Mideast war with Israel, which the Egyptians consider a victory.
Over the past few days, the military repeatedly tried to warn Muslim Brotherhood supporters and other Islamist streams not to test the patience of the army ahead of the holiday. Members of Al-Azhar, Egypt’s top Sunni Islamic body, who identify with the military regime, cautioned that protests on the national holiday are harmful to Islam, and even published a fatwa on the matter. Egypt’s security establishment also warned that those caught protesting would be charged with espionage.
Nonetheless, thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters took to the streets — revealing either bravery or stupidity, depending on who you ask — and clashed with the police and the army. And indeed, the military’s response was especially violent, with forces using live fire on protesters. Not surprisingly, the bloodshed is not expected to lead the way to the stabilization of the stormy political environment.
In many ways, the clashes Sunday were expected. What’s surprising is that since Egypt’s second revolution in July, in which Mohammed Morsi was ousted and the army came to power, protests by the Muslim Brotherhood have been quite limited. Perhaps the arrest of the movement’s top brass had something to do with the quiet that has prevailed in recent weeks.
But it was always clear that the movement, which has wide popular support, was not about to go down waving a white flag of surrender. The Muslim Brotherhood made clear Sunday that the army may arrest its members, leaders and hundreds of its supporters, but its cannot ignore its popularity among the Egyptian people.
Over the past few months, the Muslim Brotherhood’s brand of political Islam has suffered several blows. First, it lost power in Egypt. Second, the movement’s popularity in Jordan has weakened if not been put down by the Hashemite monarchy. Third, Muslim Brothers in the Syrian opposition have lost their standing to a stronger al-Qaeda. Fourth, Hamas is also losing its standing in Gaza in light of the tension with the current Egyptian regime. Fifth, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an ally of the Brothers, is facing a popular protest, while another ally, North Sudan’s Omar Al-Bashir, has also seen violent demonstrations against his rule in the country.
And yet the Muslim Brotherhood is far from finished. Sunday underlined that.